Life in The Boardroom 2023/24: an overview of social matters in the boardroom today – ESG, gender gaps, and the cost-of-living crisis

February 22, 2024


An increasingly connected and socially conscious world has sent a clear message to business: do your part or face the heat. The numbers show this, as 9/10 FTSE100 firms now tie their CEO pay to ESG metrics (environment, social, governance). We explore how board members themselves have experienced ESG in our new exclusive survey of Chairs and NEDs – Life in The Boardroom 2023/24.

In our 2023/24 report, 72% said their company has an ESG policy, up 10pp* from our 2021/22 report. 21% said their companies have incorporated ESG measures in their incentive plans, a more marginal improvement of 2pp since the 2021/22 report.

The growing adoption of ESG reflects our 2024 report on ESG. In 2023, 89% of the FTSE100 has ESG in their incentive plans, a growth of 23pp in only four years. Though short-term incentives have historically been the mainstay of ESG, 2023 saw a striking growth of 21pp for long-term incentives in the FTSE100. The FTSE100 perhaps ‘leads the charge’ in ESG that smaller firms follow.

We asked those whose companies take ESG seriously where the pressure comes from. We saw an even mix of sources with comments keen to note there was no one culprit. The largest slice at 31% was the values of the leadership team. This is perhaps surprising for those who imagine that firms adopt ESG after being compelled, rather than simply out of moral principle or for cultural reasons.

Moving to DEI specifically, our 2023/24 report shows continuing positive developments for female NEDs.

There is now near-equality in the NED gender ratio at 46% women. Female NEDs also earn 9% more on median than male NEDs; this has approximately been the case for a decade of Life in The Boardroom research.

The gender ratio of Chairs lags that of NEDs, though it more than doubled since our last report from 8% to 18%. However, the pay gap remains stark as male Chairs earn 57% more than female Chairs.

Today’s gender ratio represents a major improvement, with over 5x as many female Chairs and NEDs since a decade ago; we are confident that the pay gap will follow suit.

Life in The Boardroom also studied the annual reports of FTSE firms. We found the above ratios and gaps roughly follow the different FTSE indexes. Albeit with some variation. The AIM100, at 9%, has only half the female Chair representation of our report, and in the SmallCap, female Chairs are earning 62% of amounts earned by male Chairs at median.

Population ratio
male / female
FTSE 25 FTSE 100 FTSE 250 FTSE SmallCap FTSE AIM 100
NED 50% / 50% 51% / 49% 48% / 52% 53% / 47% 67% / 33%
Chair 89% / 11% 81% / 19% 88% / 12% 82% / 18% 91% / 9%

Finally, we found that a majority, at 59%, agreed that their companies’ remuneration policy adequately responded to their staff’s needs in light of the cost-of-living crisis.

While this may be unexpected after 2023’s economic turmoil, we also found that executives and the wider workforce received the same salary increases across all quartiles. 14% of executives received zero increase, which is nearly three times that of the wider workforce for whom 5% received zero increase.

Executive Directors Wider workforce
Median salary increase 5% 5%
% receiving no salary increase 14% 5%

More data on social matters, extensive data and analysis on the compensation, time use, opinions, and experiences of Chairs and NEDs can be found in our 80+ page report on 788 boardroom positions. Click here for a free preview.

For further discussion on this article or information on MM&K’s products and services, do not hesitate to contact James Sharp.

*percentage points

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